Spake As A Sometimes Bastard

by Cassie

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” — 1 Corinthians 13:11

When I was a child, I was a walking wound. My emotional defenses were chronically short-staffed, the walls fallen into disrepair, a fine dust of fear settled over everything — fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, fear of being judged unloved and unlovable, fear of existing.  Every hurt feeling, every perceived slight ran the risk of infecting my spirit. Disappointment hovered over my head, a dark and dirty cloud, and people could smell it on me — the kind of quiet desperation born of knowing too many truths in too small a body. There were no real degrees of hurtfulness; you either hurt me, or you didn’t. The why didn’t matter nearly as much the doing. Intent was foreign to me, a language that didn’t exist behind my crumbling castle. In the world, there were two kinds of people: the ones who had already let me down, and the ones who hadn’t yet. The “yet” was never negotiable.

I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. My childhood wasn’t particularly traumatizing. There was a lot of love, and kindness, and sturdy hands in the small of my back, encouraging me forward past my fears. The problem is that I was born extraordinarily sensitive, my heart beating in every pore, uncovered, unprotected, and as thin as the skin of a balloon. I came out of the womb invisibly inside out — the softest parts of my soul on display but no one could see it. Words could be a salve or a sword. And there just isn’t much you can with a kid like that, so mostly I was never coddled nor was I neglected. Instead, I skirted around the edges of my little life, learning all the ways that rules get broken, and eventually, I learned to pretend to play along, at least enough to keep me out of both the spotlight and the shadows.

The last ten years have been productive, emotionally. I’ve taken multiple internal inventories, making to-do lists and checking items off one at a time:

set and maintain boundaries, check
give myself permission to remove toxic people from my life, check
anger is okay, check
sadness is sometimes necessary, check
you can have walls as long as you have windows, check

And on it went, an endless fixer upper inside my chest. It still goes on. It will probably always go on, the adding and subtracting of ways to protect the pieces of me that are the most intact.

The last year has had its share of sorrow. My dad died unexpectedly, my mom’s cancer came back, my best friend inexplicably broke up with me, I lost my longtime job. Much of my inner dialogue in this time has been a hive of bewilderment, a thousand waspy words buzzing in between my ears; why this, and what that, and how did it, and who would ever, half-formed thoughts stinging behind my eyes. My first instinct has always been to curl in on myself like a dying leaf, but with age has come some hard-earned understanding, and so I have tried to remain open, the edges of me unfurled and letting in the light, turning my face up to the morning dew and sleeping spread-eagle under sweet old stars. I have tried to to let things go, throwing out ugliness on the wind, watching it separate, disintegrate, only wisps of it left blowing out to the west. I have tried not to dwell, to pack up the bags over and over again, toss them over my shoulder, always moving, never standing still or settling in. I’ve tried.

But goddamn it it’s hard.

All I want is to throw up new walls, walls made of huge, heavy concrete blocks, with no cracks and no windows and doors that are ten feet tall, thick slabs of ancient wood reinforced with steel bars and locks from top to bottom. I want a moat around my heart a hundred feet deep and full of piranhas and crocodiles and whatever other monsters might live in the deep. I want to hide in the highest tower, cut off my Rapunzel braid with rusty scissors, sleep with it buried underneath the floor. I want to bottle up every acid tear I’ve cried and turn them into bullets, become an emotional sniper, propped up in a turret with eyes wide and unblinking. I want to pull off this wrong-sided skin and slip into something more comfortable, something more sustainable, something less sympathetic. I want to smash the foundation, to sit in the wreckage and laugh like a madman.  For five minutes, I want to not be me.

But I am not a child. I no longer talk like a child. I no longer think like a child. I have an unapologetic awareness that eats childish things for breakfast. So I sit in the silence inside myself and add more items to my list:

just keep swimming just keep swimming, check
know nothing lasts forever, check
don’t punch walls that’s stupid, check
dreams don’t have to be omens, check
friendship is transitory so put away your anchors, check
don’t let the bastards get you down, check
(remember we’re all bastards sometimes, check.)

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